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How to Choose an International Moving Company

Published on Mar 12, 2020 by Kfir Cohen

Have you chosen to relocate to a foreign country from the United States? Unless you are a diplomat or a university professor, the chances are that this will be your first time doing so. To add to the difficulties of moving from one country to another, there is great uncertainty in choosing an international moving company.

Not only do you not have any experience with moving companies, you probably don’t have many friends or colleagues who do either. If you do have some recommendations from friends, that information might be dated, as the shipping industry has changed rapidly.


What’s on this page?

01 | Why it’s hard to find a good international shipping company?
02 | What to consider when choosing an international moving company?
03 | Experience in your Destination Country
04 | Federal Licensing
05 | Services Provided
06 | Where to start?


If you are moving at the request of a company you work for, you might have a little bit more of a network to rely upon. Some companies regularly send employees to their overseas offices; some even have apartments that you can inherit from others who are leaving them.

However, even in most of these companies, the employee is usually requested to make his own arrangements so that he can decide if it makes more sense to send his personal belongings or to buy things new in his new home. Because of the current tax regulations in the USA, it usually makes more sense for you to send your belongings, as stipends from your employer are fully taxed as regular income.

Make sure that you choose a company experienced in sending residential cargo to your destination country. With rules, regulations, and laws changing from territory to territory, you must work with a company with professional moving and logistics teams in the United States and a reliable, regular partner in your destination country.


Why it’s hard to find a good international shipping company?

Choosing an international shipping company is confusing. You will probably call several companies or have companies approach you by entering your personal details into a form that appears to be for a quote. Expect to get quotes for moving services which will be surprisingly varied. You will receive prices that appear so different; you won’t be sure that they are talking about the same services.

So if you are unable to rely upon friends and relatives who have used similar services or receive quotes that are not comprehendible, how do you go about choosing an international shipping company to relocate your family to a new country? There are still considerations that you can use to help you choose:

  • How experienced is the company in international moves?
  • How experienced is the company in your destination country?
  • Is this company licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission?
  • What services does the international shipping company provide?
  • What have previous clients said about the company?

What to consider when choosing an international moving company?

As the name implies, an international moving company needs to have a lot of experience moving its clients internationally.

This requires experience in packing your household and preparing it for moving abroad, all of the logistics necessary for the international transfer, and all of the many tasks involved in getting your cargo from the boat to your ultimate destination.

Packing a household for an international move is very different from packing a house to move from one city to another in the USA. When you move from California to Arizona, your things are loaded onto a truck in California and then unloaded from the same truck in Arizona. If you move from California to Italy, then your things are loaded onto a truck. If you send a private container, the container will be transferred from the truck to a ship or a holding yard.

If you send less than a full container load, your things will be transferred to a warehouse, where they will be palletized and then loaded onto a container. While on the boat, containers are automatically moved many times between ports, taken off the boat, many times manually unloaded during the customs clearance process at the port of entrance, sometimes transferred to a clearance warehouse, then usually held until delivered. In many countries, even private containers never leave the port, and local regulations require that delivery be done on moving trucks.

Read more: International Shipping Containers Explained

The point of this long litany of the travails your personal belongings will go through is to emphasize that an international move is not the same thing as a domestic move. Movers who are experienced at shipping households across the country are not necessarily experienced at moving internationally.

Some of the things that need to be considered are the number of times that something will be handled, special packaging materials necessary for international moves (both cartons and wood must conform to certain stringent standards that differ from country to country), creating a shipping inventory, palletizing and space consumption to name a few.

SDC International Shipping has dedicated moving crews who work on our international residential relocation jobs.

The importance of experienced international movers doesn’t end with packing and loading your personal belongings. The most important part of our job is the logistics. No two moves are identical, and almost all moves have some degree of complexity to them. Our logistics team will work with you to ensure that your cargo arrives at its destination on time and on budget. Clients who want it can get updates about the status of their cargo.


Experience in your Destination Country

Unless you are an experienced commercial entity sending a container to a known partner, you should never consider “door to port” shipments. You might think that you have friends with a truck in your destination country, but don’t be fooled into taking something that sounds cheap is.

Customs clearance can only be done by qualified and licensed customs agents; this will be true in every country. Hiring one of these by yourself should not be done, you have no idea what the final charge to you will be. There are countries where customs clearance can take several days.

SDC International Shipping has established relationships with partners in countries around the world. In Europe, for instance, we have our own teams because of the volume of our outgoing business to the continent. In most other countries, we have partners with whom we have worked for years.

Your cargo is not thrown out to the cheapest bidder in a foreign country; it is handled by trusted partners who have as much experience clearing your cargo through customs and delivering it to your new home.

Please note that there are countries where your presence at customs clearance or inspection is mandatory. Our partners will still be there to do all of the work for you, but you will have to be a part of the process if the local laws require your presence. If you are sending a motor vehicle, your physical presence at a safety and emissions inspection or licensing facility is required in most countries.

Usually, even if you send your car or other licensed vehicle in a private container, it will be opened and the vehicle removed and delivered somewhere for inspection. In contrast, the rest of your container is delivered to your address.


Federal Licensing

You probably have never heard of the Federal Maritime Commission. For most people, there is little reason for them ever to hear about it. You have probably heard names like the FCC, EPA, and CDC often. These are independent federal agencies of the United States government that are tasked with specific tasks like ensuring that there are standards for communications, environmental protections, or disease control (we recommend that all of our clients consult the CDC list of recommended vaccinations before moving).

The Federal Maritime Commission’s (FMC) job is to ensure that sea cargo and other international transportation is fair and that unscrupulous companies don’t take advantage of consumers and do not provide them with services that they promised. The list of rules is long and comprehensive, you can see it here: FMC Regulations.

Any company licensed by the FMC must provide bonds for hundreds of thousands of dollars in responsibility and conform to the above-linked code of conduct. Your choice of international shipping companies should start and stop with those that hold an FMC license. You can see a list of them here. Do not consider a company that is not on this list.


Services Provided

One of the key factors in choosing an international shipping company is the services that they offer. A reliable international shipping company should offer the full array of services directly connected to moving your family’s belongings from your origin in the United States to your destination in another country

. If you see a company offering you services unrelated to the actual transfer of your cargo, you should be wary. This is probably not a real international moving company but a shell company selling other companies’ services.

What services should you expect? Packing and loading should, of course, be offered. A real packing service includes all of the packaging materials necessary for an international move. If you have any particularly fragile items, they will need to be crated, using special wood treated, and approved for international shipping. Things like motorcycles should also be crated. You should expect a detailed packing list to be prepared for you, this list will later be attached to the customs forms used when your cargo arrives in your new country.

Other services that you should expect to be offered should be automobile handling, legal and the physical aspects, white glove service, and handyman service. If necessary, you should also expect to have an onsite estimate of your move done. This will not only give you the most accurate estimate of the real cost of your move, but it will also give you a chance to consult with a moving expert in person.

On the destination side of your move, you should expect to have your cargo cleared through customs, delivered to your door, unloaded into your new home, have boxes placed in your room of choice. Any furniture prepared at the origin, like wrapping or disassembly, should be unwrapped and reassembled.

If you are sending a licensed vehicle, destination services such as delivery to the licensing facility should be offered. If you are moving somewhere with difficult access, moving vans should be offered. Moving debris should also be cleared away from your destination while the movers are still there.

One other necessary service for international moves is international moving insurance. This insurance policy differs from all other kinds of insurance and is directly related to your move and should be offered by the international shipping company.

Those who offer concierge services should typically be avoided. The logistics involved in an international move are complicated. Things such as translation services, employment, real estate, etc., are valuable services but best offered by local service providers in your destination city.


International Shipping Company Recommendations

We reluctantly add international shipping company recommendations under the considerations for choosing a company. Unfortunately, internet recommendations are notoriously unreliable, and even trusted sites can be duped into publishing fake reviews. You can find reviews of SDC International Shipping on sites like Google, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and Facebook.

Be wary of reviews on other sites, as they are often dishonest and are designed to demand payment from honest companies. The BBB and Yelp offer a way for disappointed customers to grieve, and Facebook tries to verify the identity of the users, as does Google. Other sites are not to be trusted, and testimonials should be discounted on the cuff.

We are proud of the service that we provide our customers and know that they usually write very positive reviews of SDC International Shipping, so feel free to read them! Check out reviews written by our clients on any of the reliable sources.


Where to start?

Moving all of your belongings and personal items to your brand-new country and apartment is not an easy task. That is why you must choose an international moving company with all the certifications, knowledge, experience, and expertise in international shipping.

Now, this is important, say you live in Los Angeles, plan your moving date according to expected workloads and availability. Contact various international movers in Los Angeles and inquire about busy dates. Explore the web for that kind of company but don’t forget to look for one that fits your personal needs also. And most importantly, don’t forget to ask the right questions, such as:

Is packing/unpacking included? Do they also ship specialized fine arts and antiques? Is customs clearance included? What’s the time frame? Are your personal items being moved in their own container, or are they shipped together with other peoples’? Whatever it is, this is your chance to find out everything you need to know before signing up with the moving company.

By Kfir Cohen

Kfir Cohen is handling global operations, cargo shipping, negotiation, and management of different suppliers around the world. He has more than 15 years of experience in the avant-garde of relocation and the sea/air freight business.
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